Dear Bank Marketing Department – a word

brand

Disclaimer: this will sound obnoxious to a greater extent than my articles usually do, so let this be a warning.

Incumbent banks are in a bind and need to undergo rapid change. I don’t think anyone who knows anything about the ways in which the financial industry is going to be challenged thanks to technology, who would argue otherwise.

I am not going to re-list the threats here – the list is not extensive but sufficiently powerful and compelling.

I am not even going to bemoan the pace with which banks react to these very serious enemy-at-the-gate signals, which is indeed, alarmingly dismal.

What I am going to do is break down who it is that is in charge of this change.

Banks are complex organisations with indescribably many (and occasionally highly nonsensical and useless) departments. At the core of them, like in any other company, you will have on the one hand, the business side and on the other, the technology/ “IT”/operational side.

For the purpose of this exercise we should leave the “IT side” out of it. While they certainly can help by sharing into the big ideas they are typically already further ahead in understanding what could be done but have little in the way of power to make it happen. The myth of the solution architect (or even the compliance guy for that matter) sat in the corner of the meeting rooms where exciting ideas fill the air only to shoot them all down at the end because “that’s not possible with our technology/regulatory framework” – has been dismantled by the past few years when he is often the guy suggesting big changes.

Another side of the bank to leave out of this, is the BOD/Strategy/Big Wigs layer. Not because they should not be responsible for change obviously, but because the horse of how old, stuck and inflexible the board members of banks are, has been flogged to its unsavoury demise and it’s now a truism that brings nothing to the discourse. Do I believe the voices calling for new or at least improoved blood are wrong? Not necessarily – but I believe change can ripple towards our existing structures if it starts in the middle layer.

This leaves us with the following players who need to roll up their sleeves:

  1. Digital
  2. Innovation
  3. H.R.
  4. Marketing and Sales

When it comes to Digital whether it’s Product and Service design, Experience, Strategy or any other name of any other department and team that offers the consumer a bank product in any other way than by phone, ATM or branch, they have been shouldering the brunt of the need to change burden of every bank for the past 8-10 years and while yes, they are the future, and a bank’s best bet in winning any of this, theirs is a tough role too busy responding to rapid change while trying to balance sheets to ask them to do more in changing the culture of the organisation.

The Innovation teams – the Hubs, the Labs, the Funds and so on they have their sleeves rolled. Whether their efforts trickled down to consumers and their existence should continue in a bubble or be firmly woven within the fabric of the bank’s organisation is another story for another day but it’s undeniable that they have been trying hard to show that the ship is sailing straight for the iceberg of sudden, devastatingly powerful competition over the last few years. Sadly, when they now warn the powers-that-be, in even stronger terms, of the imminent nature of these changes and how banks will become pipes if they ignore the need, theirs sounds like a “Boy-who-cried-wolf” moment.

H.R. in my opinion firmly holds the key to meaningful and lasting change and to my delight, some banks now recognise this and are starting to make the moves to show that “it’s all about the people and the culture and not the technology” is more than just a nice slogan. Personally, little excites me more than my work with one of Europe’s leading banks who not only empowered H.R. to lead fundamental organisational change but allows them to explore topics that cut deep such as language, knowledge, courage and passion. As much as I love what they are doing and how I think it’s future proof work, it’s a long arduous road to seeing it aid the other players in immediate shake-ups.

Which brings me to Marketing. I’ll come right out and say it: the marketing departments of banks are the weakest link and they need to wake up now. While there are good explanations as to why they are de-facto stuck in 2002 in terms of practices and output and while we can blame the Big Wigs for confining them to a corner where they manage budgets and create ads while thinking of the colours- plenty and of the core of what they’re doing – none; we can not excuse it forever.

It’s no secret I am militant about the fact that Banks are the only consumer industry unconcerned about being a beloved brand and unless that radically changes it will be the reason for their demise.

A true brand creates powerful connections to the people who believe in it. A brand lives and breathes. It’s introspective and organically innovative. It spurs ideas and change and aims to ensnarl its customers with yet more expected awesomeness at every opportunity. A real brand is addictive.

Who should be the creators and guardians of the brand? You guessed it – the Marketing department. The gap between that fundamental job and the job they are performing today is staggering. The mere fact that Marketing departments of banks call a document which details what fonts and what shades of colours should be used when talking about their company “Brand Assets” is ironic no less because it shows the full contents of the notion of “brand” as they use it.

In other industries Marketing and Product are fusing. Customer Experience and Design have become the hub of strategy. Retail is recognising that surprising and delighting consumers is an every day imperative in this new reality of rapid innovation through technology, and they’ve long known that having an extremely strong brand is the only way to hold a relationship with the consumer enough to have the opportunity to continue to surprise and please them.

None of this is happening in banking and much of it is the Marketing’s department’s fault.

There are pockets of better where a bank has marketeers avidly inquisitive about their consumers and intensely interested in creating and upholding a brand but these banks are the mBanks, the CheBanca!s, the INGs and not the big heavy incumbents that need it the most.

So dear Marketing – you must know that your job as it is today, stripped of the human element, devoid of creation of lasting value, will be one of the first ones to go as soon as machines take over in the not to distant future. You must also know that you could be the key to this intensely needed change if only you imagined this was Ugg not RBS you work for, so please, for all our sakes’ – put down the Press Release and grab the Brand.

 

The First Big Brand Bank: Facebook

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I posted this yesterday and got a lot of response. Interestingly, most of it non-public in emails and DMs but why that is, warrants another analysis.

My tweet refers to this article I wrote many moons ago warning that brands will become banks if banks won’t become brands themselves in light of this Techcrunch article highlighting Facebook’s newly awarded European Payment License and the comment belongs to Christoffer who works for a bank I know intimately – Skandiabanken, which is the original challenger bank of the Nordics. -By the way, when these guys say “digital ecosystem” and “disintermediate” they are not using empty jargon like others may, they have been through the rings trying to understand engagement – consider they started as part of the group who did all the other components of long term investment and none of the day-to-day banking before they created them.-

FACEBOOK *IS* A BANK

First of all let’s get this out of the way – there is no “will be” or “intends to be” about this. They have acquired an eMoney license, PSD2 is happening and they are already doing in-app transfers in the US. Between these factors there are no “if”s and “but”s to be considered – that is a bank. Many FinTech-years ago we could afford to play naive and doubt it, but I trust these days anyone reading this knows that a banking license is superfluous if you combine those elements.

Secondly, over the past few years, they made no secret about this being their next step. Take this article about the then newly acquired PayPal superstar David Marcus

“It’s the job of Marcus, a gently spoken 42-year-old French-born fintech guy, to turn a proprietary messaging app into this all-encompassing platform – essentially, an operating system on which third-party apps, and entire businesses, can be built in ways that lock them into the Facebook ecosystem. The Chinese have already shown what’s possible: social media giant Tencent enables 600 million people each month to book taxis, check in for flights, play games, buy cinema tickets, manage banking, reserve doctors’ appointments, donate to charity and video-conference all without leaving Weixin, the Chinese version of its WeChat app.”

With that said, just because Facebook is a bank it doesn’t automatically follow that it will succeed. As any other new entrant in any market what they need is:

  • An audience
  • A product
  • Trust
  • Brand

THE AUDIENCE

There is little to dissect about this. They have the audience. Facebook’s numbers in terms of adoption and usage are unquotable, theirs is now a model of customer acquisition used in business schools as an example of successful platform building and relationship creation.

It is also only from hereon that they are starting to get serious about monetising on their huge numbers. Let’s face it, no one buys nearly 2Bn users if they don’t intend to make money off them, although of course, becoming a bank is not the way to do so.

THE PRODUCT

Facebook’s is not the most beautiful digital product we use today. Or the easiest to navigate. Or the most surprisingly delightful. It doesn’t win in any of those categories but it is certainly in the top echelon of all of them.

Not only that, but Facebook constantly and -some would claim unlike Google- constantly upping its own game product development wise, and features that we all would have bet would be a flop end up polished and widely adopted. Just look at the ease of integration of Facebook Messenger into Slack. Do you know why that is? Because teams use it for work communication over serious/secure/etc competition such as Skype for Business. And if their features don’t win the consumer over they are certainly not afraid to go out and buy them ready-made from elsewhere as they have done with Whatsapp although they claim they need them both.

Just because they haven’t yet made a big fuss about adding a “show me my balance and a few ideas of how to do better next month please, M” feature or you can’t see the “MyMoney” tab in your Facebook app’s menu it doesn’t mean it isn’t being cooked. If one looks at UK’s many heralded challengers, most are missing an evident offering as well so far and only time will tell who has come a longer way in designing the end product behind closed doors.

In fact, if we are to judge by the obscenely easy-to-use money transfer feature US clients are already enjoying, it is one worth waiting for.

THE TRUST

In 2010 this was the tune to which we hated FB – today all or at least most of those have been either sorted, or the perception changed, so the trust capital Facebook is building is on the increase. Not to mention they have the money and patience to wait out an entire generation of disbelievers if need be.

There is an interesting dissonance between how much people believe they trust Facebook when polled (not at all) and how much information they freely deposit into it through daily usage (GB of intensely sensitive data). The theories as to why this occurs all come back to how a cerebral privacy concern will not stand in the way of instant social gratification. In a way, it is a subconscious identity value exchange. We are aware our personal information is valuable and potentially misplaced but the risk is worth it as the emotional reward is great enough.

Privacy concerns are nonetheless, the main reason quoted as to why the Facebook Bank may not succeed. Who in the industry has not heard the following reaction of incumbents when discussing this topic? “Oh c’mon, who wants to bank with Facebook?!? I never even post photos of my kids!

Generalisations aside, people do trust Facebook. Maybe not “your people” or “my people” -whatever segment you identify with-, but enough people of the total to make up one of the word’s largest bank. Overnight.

We choose to read the above as “94% of users do NOT trust Facebook”! but look at the first segment. 3%.

What’s 3% of 2Bn? Two Lloyds banks is what.

THE BRAND

On the plus side, bank already have by comparison an immense trust capital even if according to EY’s latest findings it is diminishing.

Also on the plus side, banks could buy 2 Bn users. Not with ease and not likely, but conceivably, a few of them could poll their resources and do so. Similarly, enough common conviction to spur that could also, hypothetically, power them to build a product that people truly wanted and enjoyed using. Hypothetically.

What can’t be easily matched and what all banks -new or old- should fear is this: Banks are not brands. Facebook is a real brand – deeply life embedded and intensely emotionally relevant.

23% of world’s total population has it today as the hub of their social lives. 1 in every 5 humans use it as a primary communication method, a photo repository, a news outlet, a virtual shopping mall. An intrinsic part of our everyday lives that highly matters to us and is inserting itself deeper and deeper into our subconscious. Take the effect of the sentimental value that Facebook Memories announced in 2015 is exerting over its users – it is nothing short of monumental and it will prove itself a cornerstone in Facebook’s unbelievably scintillating engagement strategy.

What could banks bring to the table to match that when they will not even take a close look at the customer’s data?

“BUT WHY?!?”

A common reassuring mantra about the Bank of Facebook one can hear in the industry is the old – “Why would they even want to be a retail bank? There’s no money on it!“adagio, as if the social media giant has ever been instant ROI driven.

Facebook knows being a retail bank doesn’t pay off in itself, but they also know how intensely personal one’s relationship with their finances is and how powerful of an engagement play this is, and while they may not want to be our cashier they certainly want to be our life management console.

Will my child be using this life console when he grows up and implicitly be banking with Facebook? No doubt in my mind. The only question is “Will he be banking with HSBC as well?” Maybe. Whether it will be “with” HSBC or “on top of” HSBC – a relationship partner or the invisible mechanism powering Facebook Bank’s experience is what is at stake.

This is it, the year that a real brand becomes a bank. There’s no more time to waste to stay in the game.

2017 – the year Data made Bank?

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Financial data finally starting to pay off

 

If you are in Finance, you would have read at least one of the many predictions articles that poured from all directions on the internet in the past month. This is not trying to be yet another one but focus on the CX angle of one of them.

Most of the FinTech forecasts herald the advent -or victorious prevalence depending on the knowledge level of the author- of a few technology trends: blockchain, chat bots, robo-advisory and AI, PSD2 and data analytics in 2017.

This last one is perhaps the most interesting one from a customer experience perspective because if we are to be honest, this is in no way a new idea such as blockchain, and not even one that needed to “cook” and be developed as AI. The ability to collect, slice and dice data has been around at this very level, for a good few years already. So why haven’t financial institutions “made bank” on it yet?
While retailer have gotten savvier and savvier at squeezing every bit of relevancy of every piece of information we give them to strengthen their brand, in banking, we’ve seen excitement around terms such as “big data”; “customer analytics and segmentation” and even the (now completely defunct) lofty goal-phrase of “single customer view” come and go and nothing intrinsically changed in the way data is used.
Proverbial Target anecdote aside, no bank targets the newly pregnant mother with an offer for cots and no one clearly buying various elements of a vacation is being reminded of getting (or even already owning) a travel insurance.
One could argue that the very fact that this famous Financial Times personal data monetisation evaluation tool (which allows consumers to verify what their information is worth to retailers) simply doesn’t include Financial data is telling.
When asked, banks cite a desire to protect the consumer’s privacy as one of the reasons why they have not started digging into their data – but that’s a lie. They also claim the consumers absolutely do not want them to give them actionable advice depending on their spend and this too, is at a minimum a gross generalisation as report after report have shown.
The real reason why we as consumers didn’t see any of the benefits of handing over so much data is two fold: one is bank culture and the second one is technology impotence. The do not want to use the data and they can not use the data.
The cultural part is fodder for a much larger discussion, but suffice it to say it is what you’d expect: banks are huge organisations with obscenely complicated internal dynamics and a resulting inability to make courageous changes at fundamental business model level, which means they are stuck in the status quo and sadly, this status quo involves rigid age-old products and no peeking into the consumer data chest.
As for technology impotence it’s much simpler: they can’t use data they don’t understand.
Yes, they may store every byte of information possible but it’s an incomprehensible byte before basic mechanisms such as categorisation engines and data analytic dashboards are in place. In other words, they can see Mr. Smith has spent £ -221.50 they only knew it went to gnerguk0001 and that it had the transaction ID 2UK170802G2110116 and the reference No. 55542763846387652450981 but evidently none of that is enabling the bank to tell Mr. Smith he is paying twice as much as the average consumer of his age and income bracket in energy bills and suggest 1-2 alternative providers while showing him what making those savings would do for his savings in a few years’ time.
The only way that 2017 is going to be the year where Data will finally be taken seriously, is if both of these two reasons are removed and while the former is still in question, in my opinion, the latter is thankfully changing across the board as many more banks have now become technology potent in this area.

“Cross Sales” or “Life Assistance” 

Transactions already tell banks what your family looks like, and what you need in terms of next, extra or better financial and non-financial services. Buying a size 12 plimsole in M&S can only mean you have a 5-7 year old to raise. All the bank has to work out is “when and how” not “if,” they should tell us about their “goHenry” equivalent card and the junior ISA.

Making regular payments to a care agency can only mean you have an elderly relative. All that banks need to decide is “when and how” not “if”, they should engage us about the pension top-up product or even a burial service insurance.

Put into perspective, the mere fact that comparison sites, financial advisors, insurance brokers and the likes have developed as a parallel industry to banking, is a sign that banks have spectacularly failed at their job if we agree their job is to not only to store and move money, but offer the consumer all the information and actions connected to their money as services.

The beauty of it is that “doing the right thing by the consumer” by giving them the experience they deserve through attaching meaning and intelligence to their data, is that it’s a win-win – as much a moral imperative as a means to drive business and banks are in a uniquely insightful position to do so.

It’s not business – it’s personal

Lastly, and to me most importantly, making use of data is good Emotional Banking practice. Customers instinctively feel that there is great intrinsic power and opportunity in transactional knowledge and, if employed for the good, they will not perceive it in a creepy “I know what you did last summer” fashion. They simply know they have offered slices of their lives in information and that feels intimate, it is arguably why they develop Irrational Bank Loyalty  towards their financial services provider.

Giving away so much of our data is emotionally connecting in a way banks need to be courageous enough to explore to become beloved brands. It puts them at the forefront of helping consumers achieve a better financial standing by helping them save and spend more intelligently and that can very well be addictively important.

Consumers attach so much of their identity to their financial success –this article in the Economist wonders which came first happiness or money- that it follows they would be delighted with their bank contributing to it. Not to mention utterly surprised if they did.

An ad for a savings account on the side bar of a current-account-only-customer’s incomprehensible transaction list, may have been what passed for cross-sales, customer insight and marketing in most banks until now, but keeping in mind it will from hereon be “anyone’s game” with the arrival of PSD2, challengers and big brands who will build smartly, it simply won’t cut the proverbial P&L mustard anymore.

Blockchain and AI may well need a few more years before making a difference but my transactional data and yours is already in our banks, they now know what it means, so all they need to do in order to make 2017 the year they really became relevant to their customers, is be willing to help us act on it to become a smarter consumers and convince us they’re a brand worth banking on.

The Absolute Ultimate Guide of Who’s Who in FinTech (Reloaded)

Let’s face it, if you’ve read me before you’re not here for a cheery, optimistic Christmas’ Eve eve article so no need to get up in arms about the grumpiness. 

It’s December and the Twitterverse is alit with two types of things: lists of FinTech influencers of the year and posts on 2017 predictions and even lists of posts of predictions. -Incidentally in my opinion, the one that’s truly worth reading is Jim Marous’ excellent compilation of insight.- Other than that, the only bitter conclusion we can all take from the many articles on trends is that the Future of FinTech is coming! Again.

On the topic of lists though, I considered maybe curating the ones I wrote in the past few years but instead decided to simply repost my initial Who’s who from three years ago as the only one that holds true firmly in the InstaFinTech-ers Inflation of the past few months in my view. 

Sadly, when I went to look for it, it was missing. I realised I hadn’t backed it up and it was all gone post NextBank’s rebranding into NextMoney! 20 minutes of panic later I found it thanks to WebAchive’s Way Back Machine! Such is the pace of FinTech one would claim… Or such is its fickle nature. Nonetheless I’ve reproduced it here (not with ease I hasten to add as every Twitter link was now pointing to the WayBackMachine) so you’re welcome y’all, Merry FinTech Xmas!

A.D. 2014

I can’t believe you’re even here reading this considering the abundance of “Who’s who” articles, blogs and quips out there this year but this is the absolute ultimate guide. At least to me. It’s how I saw them. Personally. And I’ve had it with all these other ultimate guides that are highly subjective! No more. If you are here to find your name on the list and it’s not there, I’m sorry, if it’s any consolation sometimes even the likes of Jim Marous and Chris Skinner find their names missing, hasn’t stopped them.

The Titans
This is the old guard and the guardians of all that’s holy in FinTech knowledge. They’ve been around from times immemorial, some of them blogging and Twittering from as far back as 2000! I personally “found them here” when I started a few years ago and hey, I’m old guard too now. And they are mandatory. To read and get to know. No excuses.

Chris Skinner @Chris_Skinner
Brett King @brettking
Ron Shevlin @ronshevlin
Bradley Leimer @leimer
Jim Marous @JimMarous
Dave Birch @dgwbirch
Jim Bruene @netbanker
Rob Findlay @robfindlay
JP Nicols @JPNicols

The Newer Kids on the Block
They aren’t new, just slightly newer than the above and on their way to enter the above category. They are young and opinionated and so influential that if you don’t recognise their name and wonder about their stance on this or that you’re doing it wrong.

Yann Ranchere @tek_fin
Simon Taylor @sytaylor
James Moed @jamesmoed
Harriet Wakelam @hwakelam

The Europeans
Some of these are part of some of the other lists in many ways but they are nonetheless what makes up the European contingent (mostly London but hey, we’re the Capital of FinTech so what did you expect?)

Nektarios Liolios @nekliolios
Daniel Gusev @dngusev
Matteo Rizzi @matteorizzi
Conor M Ogle @cmogle
Christophe Langlois @Visible_Banking
Peter Vander Auwera @petervan
Claire Calmejane @ccalmeja
Brad Van Leewuen @bradvanl
Roy Vella @royvella
Elizabeth Lumley @LizLum
Nasir Zubairi @naszub
Andra Sonea @andrasonea
Devie Mohan @devie_mohan
Phil Allen @philballen
Daryl Wilkinson @DarylAndHobbes

The Bankers with the vision
In the last few years I’ve met a handful of visionaries working in banks. Whether their title is digital something or other or online and mobile channels something or other or even CxO (in painfully rare cases) they are the ones whose courage of conviction is much greater than those of us who work on the sidelines pointing in. They made digital banks happen in the last few years and brought what was debated, tested, talked about in this list to consumers. They likely know this list. And read it. Sadly this is an all-to-short section. There are at least another 8 names that are sadly just Twitter-stalkers because of inane bank-policies against joining in the dialogue.

Michal Panowicz @MichalPanowicz
Louise Long @longlou
Alessandro Hatami @ahatami
Pol Navarro @polnavarro
Roberto Ferrari @ferrarirobtweet

The Americans
Many more on the American contingent are bankers. That’s a good sign. And their chatter around big events like Next Bank or Finovate or Money2020 or SIBOS is often all you need to know how that went, if the usual innovation curb means this year “innovation” in FinTech meant very light shades of pink lipstick applied on pre-existent pigs or great big new ideas and a hint of how to execute them will shake things up.

Sam Maule @sammaule
JJ Hornblass @BankInnovation
Deva Annamalai @bornonjuly4
John Waupsh @waupsh
James Wester @jameswester
Alex Jimenez @RAlexJimenez
David Gerbino @dmgerbino

The A-Pac-ers
Not surprisingly this list is extensive, more so than it shows here and the intersection with the above are vast. Australia and Asia have so much thought brewing that the healthy dialogue is only natural. And honest. And very fresh.

Scott Bales @scottebales
Neal Cross @Neal_X
Christel Quek @ladyxtel
Matt Dooley @mattldooley
Steve Monaghan @Steve_Monaghan
Jin Zwicky @JinZwicky
Anthony Sexton @anthonysexton

The (Too) Silent Mega Influencers
‘Nuff said.:)

Benjamin Ensor @benjamin_ensor
Jacob Jegher @jjegher
Eric Van der Kleij @Ericvanderkleij

The Why-Have-they-(kinda)-Shut-up Guard
If you see these guys for a beer remind them to Tweet, if you’re their employer, give them time to tweet, read them and reward them. They’re not out, they still occasionally post and I’m sure they’re still reading it all but it’s not “like the old days”. There are some names above that have stopped being as active as us all in the industry need them, as well, and the reasons are many but they are not excused and could still use the nudge.

Aden Davies @aden_76
Emmanuel Papadacci-S @emmanuelps
Salil Ravindran @TimesRGud
Nicolas Debock @ndebock

This list is Twitter and some of these thinkers (in particular the Titans) blog religiously. Reading those should be first priority.

This list has intersections. Many. It’s the beauty of it to a degree. Europeans who are titans, A-Pac-ers who are bankers, analysts who become bankers, bankers who join the lighter (sic) side, thinkers who become executers and doers who become preachers. It’s all in how fluid our industry is and in a year’s time if anyone stumbles across it many of those categories won’t hold true but the fact that they were all part of shaping this will.

In a speech recently in Canary Wharf, Georg Osborne the Chancellor of the UK was talking about all hands on deck and what is it that we need to make us the real epicentre of FinTech. To know this list. To grow it if we have solid reason. To nudge and ask them. Constantly.To have them engaged if not in mentorship roles if we can’t manage that then at least in dialogue. Their opinions rolling will power the engine to make this happen, not stiff governmental policies no one will even know about. Get the new guard of innovators and entrepreneurs reading them religiously and they’ll understand more about the industry as it’s been shaped in the last few years and where it’s heading than reading 100 reports and attending 50 stiff courses or conferences.

This list’s combined IQ could power a mid-sized town for years and they know and get FinTech so intimately, that if we were to fire all bank’s Digital Heads in the world, have these guys in charge, give them absolute power and a debatably-big bucket of money we’d have so much awesomeness reach each and every of us consumers in about a year’s time that we would send our bank a basket of fruit every month.

Amazon Go and Contactless – How invisible payments and banks not doing their job can put us all in the red

AmazonGo – be still my beating heart! I can now go in and out of a store without any of the pain of having to stand in long queues or battle self-service machines that work as well as most airline self-check-in torture kiosks! What a wonderful concept!

Almost as soon as it was out, the Fun Police choruses could be heard around the digital world. “We’re going to spend even more!”, “Coupled with instant access to loans will spell financial disaster for consumers!” they lamented. It’s like they can’t bare us, the consumers being happy! I want to pay quick and painless! What kind of masochist wouldn’t agree with that? And surely, they must be exaggerating, what difference does it make if I use my card at the end of a long, soul destroying line, or see my total as I exit the store?!?

Thankfully, sane voices reminded everyone that it’s no different than contactless and that we’ve had around for quite some time now. And that is working out just fine for us. Or is it?

Contactless – what an unfortunate name since you have to tap the card, effectively making contact!- usage reports are showing it to be an unmitigated success. According to Barclaycard, 4 in every 10 eligible transactions are contactless and if we factor in how some outfits have been slow in rolling our their capabilities of accepting the payment we can easily presume most customers who have the technical opportunity to tap to make a payment will do so.

While adoption is spectacular, we should take a closer look at the spending behavior. Some reports suggest that once the spending limit has been raised in Britain to 30£, people have increased their monthly spending by an estimated 20%. This comes chiefly from weekend overspend.

Imagine being at your local pub with a bunch of friends having a good ol’ time. Every time another round is ordered, the waiter brings his card reader as well to settle it. A fleeting beep and millisecond later, he nods, smiles and leaves. Seems you have paid by contactless. Magic. Except, the only thing you really know about the amount is that it was under 30 pounds. How much it really was is generally unclear and while largely irrelevant if you’re having a great evening, using Chip and Pin would have allowed you that brief moment of financial responsibility while it asked you to approve the amount before entering your pin.

The UK Card Association tells us the average contactless spend is of 8.80£ – so it’s clear they are being used for rather large purchases not transport which would amount to smaller transactions. Now evidently in the absence of a limit of 1000£ we ought to be relatively safe from instant financial ruin however if we look at the same stats, half of the contactless cards in the UK are credit cards which makes the actual spend much higher.

While thanks to the –arguably- booming economy the average UK could afford to mindlessly tap and use contactless about 22 times a week before they finished their entire disposable income, according to the Money Advice Service four in ten adults in the UK do not even have 500£ in savings. That alone is a bleak picture of the future even to the untrained eye.

Maybe it’s time we stopped debating “cashless” -which is evidently the future – and start debating “mindless” which is already the “now”.

Personally, I’m a fierce personal responsibility fan, so I’m far from advocating for not having contactless payments, far from it, in fact, the limit should be raised not only to match that of Australia or Canada (around 55£) but to however much the user chooses, so that it breeds financial consciousness. I am simply pointing out that as we’re optimizing the ease of access, frequency of usage will increase and consumers need immediate visibility to gain control.

Credit score agencies have been quick to point out the dangers of overspending when using contactless but they also make it sound as if their technology is the answer to counterbalance it by information which is deceiving. The information a consumer gets from a credit agency is post-factum, the damage or overspend has already been done. Having immediate, contextual and relevant visibility of one’s finances is a must that lays with the money provider themselves – the banks.

One could argue they ought to have first put in place the tools to keep us aware and informed of our spending habits before they moved into faster payments an in era of dangerous consumerism and lack of spending restraint.

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Instant spending alerts, clear free-to-spend balances, contextual notifications relating to a customer’s money and relevant information about spending’s effect on overall finances to aid perspective, are all still a figment of #FinTech’s imagination for all incumbent banks in the UK and yet customers have a way to spend even more, faster.

Financial health is not the retailer’s, the credit score agency’s or even the bank’s responsibility, it is undoubtedly our own but giving us all the information to achieve it is their duty and technology is not what prevents them from doing so.

Goodbye, Santander. The end of a banking love affair.

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My love affair with Santander began many years ago when I started meeting some of their amazing people at the start of my journey of selling them Meniga’s PFM. Over time many of those people became friends because it’s hard to resist bankers with such astoundingly large hearts. Don’t get me wrong, most banks have a contingent of great minds and fiery hearts but in Santander, the passion seemed to run through the veins of every department from the digital crusaders to the procurement people so I quickly became a personal fan too and switched my impossible-to-use-due-to-extreme-passwording (annus domini: 2014 so no touch ID) Lloyds account to a Santander one.

Many of the people I worked with over the last few years, have seen me use a folder I was forced to create on my phone to contain all the various Santander apps in one place (affectionately called “FFS Santander!”) as an example of what not to do as a bank, but that was not me the consumer moaning but the front-end strategist disagreeing with the scattered growth. Aside from that though, as a consumer, I had only one major complaint – that of having to call them to let them know I’m out of the country and will be using their card so once a week I’d be on the phone -some times for ages- to do so typically on my way to the airport or they would promptly block me out of funds because yanno, flagging that I’m the epitome of the frequent flyer seemed to be too much to handle for their systems.

That was the only problem I really had, and if we accept Santander is simply not interested in air crew and the likes, it wasn’t an issue major enough to make me consider switching, chiefly because, as any other consumer, I didn’t think I could get better elsewhere. (Turns out that’s wrong, at least 3 UK banks let you tell them you’ll be away on the go).

So all in all Santander and I had settled into the lull of a semi-dysfunctional but comfortable long term relationship where the shine of young love thrills had been replaced by torn corners of my debit card and I had thought we’d be together till the day that I’ll choose my Challenger bank and then amicably part ways.

But then this happened.

On my way to Budapest to work with Unicredit a couple of weeks ago, I go through my normal round of Santander calls to ensure they don’t cut me off. This once I’m short for time, so don’t even do my “you guys really need to sort this” litany but hurriedly hung up as I’m passing through security and holding up the queue. I pick up my belongings and as I run to the aircraft I log into my Metro Bank business account application (which gleefully responds within milliseconds causing me to fleetingly give cheating on Santander a thought) and send my Santander debit account a few thousand pounds for various things. Having seen the confirmation of the transfer I turn off my phone and settle into my Priority Boarding many comforts.

Once at the hotel in Budapest I decide to carry on with my on-the-move home accounting endeavour thinking it can easily be done while I reapply make-up and get ready for dinner. In particular as this should only be a couple of transfers including a hefty one to the husband-come-PA as he’s in charge of paying most of the bills, taking cash out for the Monzo-reluctant nanny (another story for another time), etc.

Half absent-mindedly, I log into Smartbank , click on Transfer, write down the amount and make to scroll down through my list of Payees to find Husband’s Lloyds. Nothing to scroll down through. Huh? I put down the lipstick, sit down and give it full attention. Have they changed the interface and it now needs side scrolling? Have they made the payees’ names white-on-white? All possible scenarios, sadly. Nope. The payees’ field stares at me empty and surprised I quiz it. Instead of the 6-7 names there all the time I now have nothing at all.

Feeling my blood pressure raising I decide it’s likely easier to get online on my laptop and set him up as a payee again, than try and deal with what has happened and while I shoot him an Whatsapp asking him for a picture of his Lloyds card (because c’mon, security schecurity, I have bankers waiting with dinner!) I pop open the lid of my laptop and brace myself for the ordeal that is going to the online bank in Santander while hoping things have miraculously changed since I was there last 6 months ago.

Nope, still there. The three incomprehensible blood-of-grandmother-type password steps complete with gratuitous picture they made me choose for “personalisation” reasons and an online-only password so painful to remember I have written in my London office on an eternal post-it. In hindsight, had I asked someone to take a picture of said post-it and send it to me I would have been in, and Bob may have been my banking uncle but instead I risk it and you guessed it, lock myself out of the online bank on the skippy. Time for the last resort.

“Hi, I need to keep this brief as I’m calling you from Hungary and I’m in a hurry. You guys “vanished” my payees from the mobile app for no good reas…”

“Oh hello my name is Charlie, I’ll need to walk you through some security first”

“Awesome. Let me save you some time – name is, date of birth is, address is and tell me what number letters you need”

“2nd, 5th and 6th”

“7, 4, 1”

“Excellent! How can we help you today Mrs Blomstrom?”

“As I said, I got into my mobile app and have no payees so I can’t…”

“Oh I’m sorry to hear that. That’s strange, I will have to move you to the team dealing with the mobile app”

“No, wait! I don’t need that, they can’t magically reinstate them for me! I need to register at least another one tonight. Can I do it with you on the phone, please?”

“Oh no I’m afraid we can not do that but you can do it in the onl…”

“….online bank. I know. I tried. I didn’t get your impossible online password right so I locked myself out.”

“Oh ok, that’s not ideal. What I can do is send you another temporary password for the online bank”

“Excellent! Email or SMS?”

“Oh no, I’m afraid we can’t do that m’am, this will be in the regular mail”

“WHAT?!? Leave alone how ridiculous it is to send a password for online in the mail that won’t do me any good as I need to transfer money tonight!”

“Yes well, let me explain, once the password is sent in the mail we can reset it for you from here so I am trying to get you in tonight”

“O….k…. that’s just dumb but sure, go ahead and send it.”

“Ok M’am, please give me your address”

“It’s probably XYZ in the system but I moved to ABC”

“What?!? You moved and never went to the branch to sort the new address?”

“Yes well I’m sorry, it’s been a busy few weeks – let’s just change it now”

“I’m sorry that will not work, you have to go into a branch to do a change of address.”

“Ok well nevermind, forget I said that, send the password to the address you have”

“I can’t do that M’am since you just admitted you do not reside there”

“Ok but you said it doesn’t matter and we can change the password through a reset link!!!”

“Yes but not if I can not send the password by mail and I can not”

“Are you friggin’ kidding me?! It’s now been 3 hours of me trying to make ONE payment”

“I’m sorry M’am”

“Ok listen, what can we actually do? If you can’t set up the payee, can you at least make this one time transfer?”

“Over the phone? No, I’m afraid it has to be on the mobile app or inside the on…”

“You MUST BE JOKING!!!! What am I supposed to do?”

“I’m afraid you will have to go to a branch M’am”

“I’m not even in the country! Are you saying you will keep my money prisoner till I get back because your entire system is crap?!?”

“No, I am just…”

“This is not acceptable! I need a solution! Either you make a transfer or I am done with you guys!”

“M’am – shall I patch you through to our complaints department?”

“Yes! Wait! No!”

“Hello? We understand you are not happy with the online banking service?

“What? NO! That’s not it. Nevermind, done with you people I want to close my account!”

“May I ask why?”

“No. I am seriously done, send me my CDs back done, you can have your leather jacket done. It’s over. Finito. Kaput.

“Well ok… I’m just asking if I can I help…

“You can not, your backend sucks so bad that you managed to lose entries in the database, develop online as yet another separate endeavour with no connection to the same security system and build a login process so painful it makes grown men cry, and topped it all of with extreme phone channel impotence. I am serious, I want to close my account with Santander and switch to a real bank.”

“Well if you’re sure M’am. You can close your account at any of our branches, would you like me to provide you with a list of the closest ones to you?”

So there you have it. My Disney fairytale ending of switching to the most valiant challenger or even, if they did not prove themselves before Santander caught up, staying with my bank till AI, PSD2, and Blockchain did us part, will never be.

And I did go to a branch. I went to several. A Santander one to change my address as otherwise I couldn’t Switch and then a NatWest one (don’t judge!) for a strangely enjoyable long, cathartic chat with my local banker over a cuppa, about how others did me wrong and what a lovely future we’ll have together.

Goodbye Santander, we can’t stay friends, it wasn’t me, it was you.

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Holy Banking Paralysis Batman!

The long writing hiatus was chiefly due to being busy but also having to process how I feel about a rather bedazzling find: “Tangible Banking” stood still while I was “away”.

Not all of it of course, there was much done on the launch and proposition of challengers and front-end of neobanks but for traditional, big retail banks time shockingly stood still. A time they hardly afforded to lose to begin with.

As some of you know, I left the very practical side of things – selling and designing a core transaction and data FinTech product for banks who desperately needed it as it could dramatically change the consumer experience- about 18 months ago to do the “Less Tangible” banking stuff and ask them to stop and think of the consumers’ feelings and take introspective long hard looks at their organisations. One would argue I moved from a “doer” to a “thinker”. Some would argue I moved from being FinTech-er to being a professional finger pointer. Call it what you will, I spent that time writing as a banking consumer advocate, advising lots of FinTech companies how to approach if not defeat inertia and even working with a handful of genius banks who “got it”.

A couple of months ago I went back to “Tangible Banking” by working closely with a company who also has an amazingly smart and technically briliant product to dramatically change the consumer experience, this time on the onboarding side and I was blow away by where banks had gotten in the time that I was “away”.

Nowhere much.

Reaching out to some of my old clients and prospects I heard the same complaints and excuses and I attributed them to natural moaning needs of unsung heroes – bank employees who stuck it out during this FinTech palooza and tried to make these organisations move. A task worthy of Sysyphus.

Sadly, as I got a deeper understanding of what exactly their organisations have brought to the consumer in the time I had joined the “Intangible Banking Fixers” brigade, the complains are genuine – nearly nothing substantial can be pointed to and some of the same projects that were slow moving back then are still around whether on hold or being resurrected now. The big worthy ones. The ones about IRL data access, the ones about replacing spaghetti back-ends that prevent change, the ones about vision that is truly digital, the heavy stuff.

Look, I get banking inertia caused by “Business Prevention Departments” (J.P. Nicols Perpetuity TM) as much as the next frustrated doer or thinker in the industry, and I realise to my FinTechMafia gang this is another article on “same stuff I’ve been writing about since 2000” but this is a whole new level of ludricous, when I left “tangible banking” there was impossibly much buzz about how banks were “finally getting somewhere” and heaps of really solid projects in the works and they have all but vanished.

Here is who and what I blame:

  • Blockchain. Yes it’s complex and yes it’s potentially revolutionary but did everyone in every financial institution have to drop everything else they were thinking of to read and learn about it?
  • The slow pace of industry innovation. Just look at a Finovate Buzz words card and you’ll know nothing much was offered to the banks from the FinTech innovation side of things in the last 3-4 shows. This is partly because there is state-of-the-art front-end and no easily approachable back-end proposition fodder out there, but also because FinTech needs to make a buck and pushing the innovation barrel too far ahead of the banks makes no ROI sense.
  • The inability to catch-up of knowledge houses. 6-7 years ago the big consulting giants were woefully behind in offering any kind of serious strategic guidance to big retail banks in digital and top product designers stood in for them. They still are and they still do.
  • The FinTech commentator inflation. A few years ago there were 30-50 voices internationally who stepped in for the knowledge void created by the analysts and consultants. In the last 2 years that number has immeasurably exploded and while in the future that will be great for the industry as it will filter into real value and some of the newcomers are providing that already, it’s simply just massive noise for the banks for now, furthering their confusion.
  • The Great FinTech Distraction (TM). The mere number of Innovation Labs, Funds, Incubators, Aggregators, all other “-gators” says it all. How is one to focus on getting things done when one is not sure what the next best thing is and needs to keep on scouting?

Much as I would rather find reasons to praise the big retail banks and distance myself from the mindless bank bashing that some have taken up as a sport, for the reasons above, I feel everyone dropped the ball and allowed a vicious sort of analysis paralysis to take over. Let’s pick it up again and get going on that Free-to-Spend project from 2001.